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Treat workers like assets, not costs: AFL-CIO chief

The defining economic fact of the last couple of decades is that productivity continued to go up but wages stayed flat, and America's business leaders must take responsibility for that, Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said on Thursday.

Chief executives told CNBC at a summit of the Business Roundtable that America is becoming less competitive because of U.S. tax structure, inadequate education and a lack of vocational and technical training.

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Companies should work with the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest federation of unions, to target training that will create jobs, Trumka told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

"Too many employers, including many at the Roundtable, treat workers as costs to be cut rather than assets to be invested in," he said. "They talk about education but they don't provide it to workers. They talk about training but they really don't keep up with training."

As for whether companies face too many regulations, Trumka noted that Germany has strong regulations but treats its workers well, provides health care to all of its citizens, and still manages to compete on the global market.

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The president's recent executive action on immigration, which offers certain undocumented workers a path to remain in the country, is good for labor, he said. That is because it removes the threat of deportation to workers who speak up for their rights, said Trumka.

"You have an immigration system that's totally broken. Employers are using that broken system to drive down wages for everyone out there," he said. "When we fix the immigration system, wages will begin to rise for everybody."